Linux goes down in history: the early life

Dec 08, 2016 by AdrianC

In a blog post last year we talked about the uncertain future of UNIX and a possible replacement, and as most of you probably guessed (it was not that hard, after all), Linux is often seen as the operating system which has what it takes to become the next UNIX (more on this at the end of the series). Considering this to be true, let’s see how the lovely penguin broke the ice.

Linus Torvalds starts low

The first mention about Linux was made by Linus Torvalds in 1991. The Finnish software engineer confirmed his interest in the standard POSIX definition, without revealing the name of his MINIX project.

Many projects started with high expectations and now they are long-forgotten. Linux had one of the humblest beginnings, but it was the one which eventually made history. If you think that this is just wordplay, keep on reading!

No matter the reason behind Linus’ determination to create a new operating system kernel, we are both glad and thankful that he made that call. The kernel's first version, namely 0.01, resembled the MINIX model and was released for i386(+) AT-machines. Also, the Linux variant did not use any code from other sources, although at that time it needed MINIX to run.

Created in 1987, MINIX derives from mini-UNIX. It was developed by Andrew S. Tanenbaum as an operating system with a microkernel architecture. Although Linux employed a monolithic design, while MINIX used a microkernel, Torvalds was a fan of Tanenbaum's design concepts. As for the main reason why Linux needed MINIX to run properly, it was due to the fact that development was done on this host system. Among others, Linux' file system has taken its inspiration from MINIX.

With the backing of the open-source community, the Linux kernel grew to version 0.95, which was capable of running the X Window System). Around the same time, the first three major distributions (or distros) arose and they would become the starting point for many other distros - plenty of them available right up to this day.

Linux sets off

Slackware, Debian and RedHat are without a doubt the three distros that have shaped the future of Linux. The first of the trio was Slackware, which spawned from SLS (a buggy albeit advanced distribution, 1992). The next distro to see the light of day was Debian, created by Ian Murdock in 1993 (named after Ian Murdock himself and his girlfriend, Debra Lynn). Last but not least, Red Hat, was developed by Marc Ewing in 1994 - the distro which would eventually climb to the top of the ladder in the world of server operating systems.

Out of the three, the first to really take off was Red Hat, with distros such as Mandrake, Caldera, TurboLinux, Red Flag - all of which were based on Red Hat. Debian-based distros came along, too, being more desktop-oriented than Red Hat as well as more user-friendly.

While more distros gained popularity, around 1996, version 2.0 brought features such as SMP support, better memory management, while more processor types became compatible the Linux kernel.

The first week of 2000 marked the start of the longest active kernel version, specifically 2.4, which was supported until 2011. The new version offered compatibility with USB, PC Cards, ISA Plug and Play, and went on to add Bluetooth, RAID and EXT3 support on its list.

It’s all about the desktop!

In 1996, Matthias Ettrich founded the Kool Desktop Environment (KDE), a full-blown desktop environment, which could be installed for any Linux distribution, starting with 1998. Also, around the same period, Miguel de Icaza and Federico Mena developed another desktop environment, Gnome, which became a user-friendly and fast environment in a short amount of time. The first distro to use Gnome was none other than Red Hat.

Having a solid and reliable kernel, a growing desktop environment, and the full support of the open-source world, beginning with the year 2000, the operating system started to grow exponentially. As of January 2017, the number of active distros on Distrowatch was 286, meaning that we have 286 Linux distributions to choose from - and that is not bad at all.

This is where the second part of the article comes to an end (but do not forget to return for the final part). Until then, feel free to share with us your love for the Tux penguin!


Tags: Linux 


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